Abuse of Mexican electronics workers challenged in new report

By agency reporter
10 Feb 2008

Electronics workers in Mexico are regularly subjected to denial of labour rights and dignity by companies - practices which needed to be challenged and changed, says a new report from the England and Wales Catholic development agency, CAFOD.

The report from the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, which operates autonnomously but is recognised by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, says workers are exposed to toxic materials.

It also claims that safety rules are ignored, contributing to the alarming incidence of accidents, and it says workers are denied other rights, including being banned from joining trade unions or trade unions being taken over and controlled by companies.

CAFOD's 'Clean Up Your Computer' campaign in 2004 persuaded leading electronics manufacturers like Dell and IBM to sign up to Codes of Conduct aimed at improving conditions for workers across their supply chain.

In the wake of this campaign, Hewlett Packard, Dell and IBM met with local organisations and heard at first hand the experiences of electronics workers.

CAFOD's new report forms part of its work with a Mexican partner organisation, the Centre for Reflection and Action on Labour Issues (CEREAL), which works to ensure that companies live up to the commitments that they have made, and make real and lasting improvements for people working in developing countries.

Interviews were conducted with almost 2,000 workers within the supply chains of electronics companies, including Hitachi, Hewlett Packard, Nokia, Philips, Dell, Motorola, Lenovo and Intel. 236 cases of alleged abuse were documented.

CAFOD's partner in Mexico, CEREAL who wrote the report, found disturbing cases including a woman whose hands were severed by a company machine because of a fault with the machine Other workers described how they were still worried about exposure to toxic materials and requests to switch roles were turned down.

One woman worker died after being hit by a car in the work car park. Her family were asked to withdraw their compensation claim against the transportation company but after CEREAL's intervention the transportation company relented and have paid compensation to her family.

Electronics equipment is Mexico's main export and the industry employs 400,000 workers who earning on average 100 pesos (US$ 9.25) a day. The industry was worth US$46 billion in 2006 and Mexico is the tenth largest exporter of electronics equipment in the world.

The report also reveals that some workers were forced to stand during the whole of their twelve hour shifts and requests for chairs were denied. Even a six-month pregnant woman was forced to stand for the whole of a seven hour shift. The report also highlights other bizarre rights abuses including employees being asked in interviews if they had tattoos and another worker described how she was asked about her sex life during an interview.

Jorge Barajas from CEREAL, said: "This is the second report we have produced on the electronics industry in Mexico and we are witnessing only small changes. We still need to see systematic improvements in workers' conditions. The only positive change is that some companies are choosing to respond promptly and efficiently to complaints raised by CEREAL but other companies ignore all complaints. However the fact remains workers should be able to take their grievances directly to their employers rather than having to turn to an independent charity like CEREAL to raise their concerns."

The report says that contract workers, who make up 60% of the work force, often don't get annual leave or maternity leave and are sometimes pressurised to sign undated resignation letters ­ which means employment agencies thereby avoid the hassle of firing people.

Anne Lindsay, CAFOD Private Sector Policy Analyst, said: "Following the January sales many people will be enjoying new TVs, mobile phones and computers yet this report highlights some of the misery that can be found in global supply chains. The electronics industry is all about improving communications but the message that all workers deserve basic rights doesn't seem to be getting through.

He added: "Repeated use of temporary contracts means many workers are extremely vulnerable: they can't build up rights to holiday time or sick leave. In Guadalajara I met one woman who had 30 contracts in just two years. Workers are still unable to form their own unions to negotiate improvements for themselves. Thanks to CEREAL's work the industry is well aware of abuses so the fact that they are still occurring on a regular basis is hugely disappointing."

Following CAFOD's 2004 campaign, 'Clean up your Computer', the electronics industry established voluntary industry standards. CAFOD worked with CEREAL to help them monitor electronics companies and take part in talks with the industry in Mexico.

One positive sign, campaigners say, is that some companies are responding more quickly to individual cases raised by CEREAL. This is reflected in CEREAL's report which classifies companies by the type of responses that they gave following employees' complaints being passed onto them.

But far-reaching change is still needed to prevent new cases occurring, they add. CAFOD and CEREAL are calling for electronics brands and the large contract companies including Sanmina, Flextronics, Jabil and Solecton to work across their supply chains to improve conditions and allow workers to set up and join trade unions that are free from management control.

With additional acknowledgments to Independent catholic News - http://www.indcatholicnews.com/

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